by Clyde Weiss | February 27, 2015
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker owes the nation an apology for comparing the public service workers who protested his decision to take away their bargaining rights with the murderous terrorists of the Islamic State, said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who characterized Walker’s statement as “disgusting.”
Walker made his widely condemned comment during a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, declaring, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
President Saunders called Governor Walker’s statement “the desperate act of a craven, career politician, not a leader whose values are aligned with what this country stands for. In Madison, we marched alongside military veterans, firefighters, police officers, nurses, librarians and teachers. There were senior citizens and children. College students and clergy."
In demanding that the governor apologize to the nation, Saunders cited the many AFSCME members who responded (and died) during the terrorist attacks in New York on 9-11.
“We’re not going to stand by and let Scott Walker smear hard-working Americans, simply because they exercise their first amendment freedom to disagree with him,” he said. “You don’t attack good men and women who give their time every day to make this country a better place.”
Others condemning Walker’s statement included Jim Tucciarelli, president of AFSCME Local 1320 in New York, who witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center and lost friends there. “Governor Walker, I know terrorism,” he said. “Today, after hearing your words, I also know the sound of cowardice.”
Carroll Braun, a retired police officer from Hagerstown, Md., and a member of AFSCME Council 67, said in an interview that his first reaction was outrage. “Then I was totally disappointed that a governor who is running for president of the United States is comparing union workers to terrorists.”
Braun said those demonstrators were simply public employees, many like him who worked hard every day to keep the public safe. “I was a police officer and union member for 25 years,” he said. “Now I’m being compared to people who killed and burned people alive. Walker is not qualified to be president, making statements like this. If he’s got that much hatred toward public employees, how can he run the government?”
by Omar Tewfik | February 27, 2015
MADISON, Wis. – Thousands of Wisconsin workers will descend on the Capitol here at noon Saturday for a rally that promises to be even larger and louder than the two that took place earlier this week.
AFSCME members were among some 5,000 Wisconsin union and community members who rallied here Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the “right-to-work” scam that was rushed through and approved by the State Senate Wednesday. The Senate voted 17-15 late in the evening to move the bill forward despite hearing testimony from thousands about how the bill would hurt their families by lowering wages for all Wisconsin workers while also undermining workplace health and safety.
With hundreds of Wisconsinites waiting to give their testimony on Tuesday, Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee Chairman Steve Nass abruptly cut the hearing short, citing a “credible threat” to disrupt it. Nass refused to present evidence of any credible threat.
At the Wednesday rally, speakers slammed Nass and his allies in the Senate for listening to outside special interest groups instead of people who actually live in Wisconsin and for walking away from the rally. “I was here at the Capitol, waiting since 10 a.m. to give testimony when our elected officials decided to undemocratically silence my voice,” said Connie Smith, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. “So I am here today because I will not be silenced.”
by Ebony Meeks | February 27, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas – AFSCME Texas Corrections members from Huntsville, Palestine, Gatesville and Angleton showed up in full force Feb. 23 to testify before the Senate Finance Committee about the importance of addressing pension and pay raise issues during this legislative session.
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, presented the department’s requested budget, which includes a 10 percent pay increase for correctional employees. “The increase will help fill vacancies in areas where we are competing with oil fields for employment,” said Livingston.
AFSCME Texas Corrections commends the TDCJ for supporting a pay raise, but is pushing for more than 10 percent. Vacancies and short staffing are issues across all 106 state-run facilities. AFSCME Texas Corrections submitted a proposal to increase retention by putting state correctional employee pay rates on par with the five largest counties in the state, which on average receive about $4,500 more than TDCJ employees.
Sgt. Jackie Parsonage, from the Jester IV unit, testified about the tough decisions officers in her unit have to make due to the low wages they receive. “I’ve had to pick officers up and drive them to work because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car. They have to decide between putting food on the table and addressing their medical needs,” said Parsonage.
“TDCJ is the second largest prison system in the United States but has some of the lowest-paid correctional employees,” said Local 3920 President Catherine Wilson, CO IV, Marlin Unit, in her testimony. “We deserve better pay to allow us to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.”
Besides their testimony, AFSCME Texas Corrections members delivered cards to the offices of legislators, urging them to approve pay raises. The cards were signed by more than 8,000 correctional employees.
Richard Salazar, laundry manager from the Powledge unit, received a mixed reception during his office visits. “Senator (Kevin) Eltife’s office was very well versed on our issues. I was able to sit down and talk in detail about the issues we face as correctional employees and at my unit specifically. Some of the others were completely out of touch with what we deal with on a daily basis,” said Salazar. “It’s going to take more visits and more correctional employees reaching out to their elected officials to really get the changes we deserve.”
by Clyde Weiss | February 27, 2015
The decline in America of major industries, offshoring of jobs and “the rise of relentlessly anti-union companies” all hurt the labor movement, but workers still demand a voice on the job through a union, and it is the job of labor to help them gain it, contends AFSCME’s Paul Booth in an article recently published in The American Prospect magazine.
Booth, executive assistant to AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, takes issue with those who say organizing new union members “is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past,” or simply that “the labor movement is dead, or dying.”
“I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize” over the past 40 years, he wrote in the article, titled “Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing.”
To counteract the effects of all the anti-union strategies that eroded labor’s ranks, “many unions changed what they did, and how they did it,” he wrote. That included helping to organize millions of workers in occupations not previously served by unions. They include “home care and child care providers, nurses and emergency medical technicians, hotel workers, adjunct college teachers, transportation security officers, taxi drivers, wireless telecom workers, drug store workers, truck drivers in ports, pickle harvesters, bakery workers and passenger service agents.”
Booth wrote there also is a growing worker movement “outside of the unions” that includes temporary, casual and contractual workers. Even so, he wrote, “they are indeed part of the worker movement” and they “need to find a way to combine with existing unions” as other workers have done for decades.
“So let us all be missionaries – missionaries for solidarity, for organizing, for growing our unions and for the fights for justice,” Booth wrote. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s the right idea. Organizing the unorganized is the highest priority for labor, and for all of our hopes for change.”
by Pablo Ros | February 27, 2015
At a time when overcrowding is the rule rather than the exception in Ohio prisons, four correction officers, members of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11, were attacked by a large group of inmates in one of Ross Correctional Institution’s housing units. Two of the officers suffered broken bones as a result of the attack.
Injured were Officers Brian McGraw, Larry Patterson, Steve Stutz and Walter Rumer. McGraw suffered a broken eye socket and is back at the institution on a return-to-work, partial-duty program. Patterson is recovering at home with a broken hand and may receive further medical treatment before returning to work. Stutz and Rumer were not seriously injured and are back to their normal duties.
The attack happened when two officers were sent into the housing unit to transfer an inmate to an isolation cell after he acted violently against an outside visitor. It’s unclear if the attack was planned or improvised. An investigation is under way. At least 15 inmates — thought to be involved in the attack against the officers — were transferred to Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, following the attack.
Chris Minney, a correction officer at Ross who is president of AFSCME Chapter 7130, OCSEA, said it was the first time she’s seen a group of officers targeted by inmates in her 22-plus years of experience. “We do not typically see this happen,” she said.
While Ross Correctional Institute is meant to house at most 1,050 inmates, the current tally is 2,170, or more than twice the maximum. Officers have been begging for more support, but management has been further reducing their numbers in recent years. Security posts have been cut, leaving officers feeling more vulnerable.
“There are not enough of us to go around and make sure all work is getting done in a good manner,” Minney said. “We need more staff, but not in management positions. We need staff in the boots-on-the-ground area.”
By watching over some of the most violent and dangerous individuals in our communities, correction officers keep our communities safe. In return, they should have safe workplaces, where incidents like Saturday’s attack can be prevented.
by Kevin Zapf Hanes | February 26, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC – Sgt. David Orr, a Norwalk, Conn., public safety officer and AFSCME Local 1727 member, urged the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to recommend extending workman’s compensation to cover Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In his Feb. 23 testimony, Orr cited the psychological injuries suffered by police officers in the tragedy and aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown.
“As cops, we all know that those outside of our profession love to hear a good war story,” said Orr. ”But nobody wants to hear the story told by the Newtown officer who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary and entered the first grade classroom to find an entire class full of 6-year-old children murdered by a deranged young man with an assault rifle.”
He reminded the panel that police officers go to work every day to deal with the issues society prefers to ignore and do so because they understand that by going to work they are keeping their communities safer. “We as officers will continue to voluntarily insert our bodies and minds into these events in an effort to help. Most of us will emerge and find a way to cope with what we’ve experienced, but some will not.”
PTSD is recognized by 32 states as a coverable injury under workman’s compensation. However, Connecticut is one of the 18 states that doesn’t cover PTSD. “It is time for every state to recognize the sacrifice that these brave men and women make daily to protect and serve,” said Patrick Gaynor, AFSCME Council 15 president. “We stand by Sergeant Orr’s request and call on President Obama to take necessary steps to include workman’s compensation coverage for job-related PTSD and other psychological injuries that officers sustain in the line of duty.”
Last year, members of the Newtown Police Union, AFSCME Local 3153, took this same message to the Connecticut legislature, only to have it fall on deaf ears. “Perhaps a nudge from the President will wake up the legislature in states like Connecticut that fail to recognize the commitment it takes for these brave men and women to go to work,” closed Gaynor.
The Task Force is due to submit its proposal to President Obama on March 2. The 100,000 public safety officers AFSCME represents nationwide will continue to push for comprehensive workman’s compensation – in Connecticut and other states.
Read Sgt. David Orr’s full testimony here:
by Kevin Zapf Hanes | February 26, 2015
TRENTON, N.J.–Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to shortchange the state’s pension fund by cutting the state’s payment by $1.6 billion was illegal, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Feb. 23.
“We applaud Judge Jacobson’s correct decision,” said Sheryl Gordon, AFSCME Council 1 executive director. “This is a step in the right direction to make the thousands of dedicated women and men who keep this state moving whole.”
The decision identified clearly that, unlike Governor Christie, state employees continued to live up to their part of the deal. “Notably, State employees have continued to make increased contributions to the pension funds throughout this period, while the State’s required contributions to the funds have been severely truncated,” Judge Jacobson wrote.
“Thousands of AFSCME members, who we represent, go to work every day to make our neighborhoods, cities and towns better,” said Mattie Harrell, AFSCME Council 71 executive director and also International vice president. “They do their part, they give their all – it’s time for the state to do its part.”
In the scathing judgment, Judge Jacobson ordered Christie to make the state’s portion of the payment to the state pension fund. “When a State itself enters into a contract, it cannot simply walk away from its financial obligations,” she stated. “A promise to pay, with a reserved right to deny or change the effect of the promise, is an absurdity.”
“By simply stepping away from the state’s obligation, Chris Christie once again sent a clear message to all New Jersey workers that he has no respect for the work they do,” said Gerard Meara, AFSCME Council 73 executive director.
Added AFSCME Council 52 Executive Director Richard Gollin, “time and time again, this governor consistently scapegoats public employees to further his real political ambitions and hide his failures as governor.”
Christie indicated he would appeal the decision.
by Olivia Sandbothe | February 24, 2015
MADISON, Wisconsin – Four years after Gov. Scott Walker infuriated Wisconsin’s working families by stripping public service workers of their collective bargaining rights, he and his friends in the Legislature are at it again. And this time, ALL workers are in the crosshairs of the attack.
The Wisconsin Legislature held a hearing Feb. 24 for a so-called right-to-work bill that would undermine union rights for private sector workers. These kinds of laws have been used to weaken unions and bring down wages across the country, so it’s no wonder that Wisconsin workers are ready to fight back.
More than 5,000 people turned out to the Capitol building here to tell their elected representatives they’ve had enough of union bashing by the state’s political leaders. The AFSCME members in the crowd already experienced Walker’s heavy-handed tactics, and are ready to continue the fight with their sisters and brothers in the private sector.
“We're standing with them because they stood with us four years ago,” says Gary Mitchell, AFSCME International vice president and president of Local 2412 in Madison. “We’re all in this together.”
The proposed legislation is just one more chapter in the Walker administration’s crusade against Wisconsin’s middle class. The legislation is projected to bring down wages and benefits for Wisconsin families. “This is about fighting back for the rights of all workers to put a roof over their families’ heads, to put food on the table, and to be respected and treated with dignity in the workplace,” said Local 720 member Ryan Wherley.
Maggie Thomas of Local 2634, who used her personal vacation time to attend the rally, said the problem is bigger than any one law. She’s protesting the administration’s entire agenda. "I don't want people to forget about the budget,” she says. “It's going to hurt real people."
As Scott Walker prepares for a possible Presidential run, he’s giving the nation a clear picture of what his leadership looks like, and it’s not pretty. He is promising to give our nation what he’s giving Wisconsin: a raw deal for working families.
by Kevin Brown | February 24, 2015
SEATTLE – A program that is changing lives by pairing unwanted canines and at-risk juvenile offenders is facing a funding crisis and has turned to “crowdfunding” to survive.
Canine Connection has been around for more than 15 years, but recently suffered a significant decrease in donations. Unless it can raise the level of funding, it will be forced to make several program component cuts or possibly close its doors, to the detriment of both the youth and the dogs in the program.
Program Dir. Jo Simpson, in an interview with a local TV station, expressed her concerns that “donations are at their lowest level since the program started. I'm very worried. We can't offer vocational training, we can't make repairs, can't care for the dogs and cover vet bills if we don't have funding.
AFSCME members employed at the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie, Washington, strongly support the program because they’ve seen the positive effect Canine Connection has on both the canines and young adults. Juvenile rehabilitation counselors represented by Local 341 help pair the children with canines on death row from dog pounds in Washington, Idaho and California.
Echo Glen’s children are taught to work with the dogs directly. They learn to respect, train, bathe and socialize them so they are ready to be adopted by a new family. As the program progresses, they become more responsible, caring and committed to a task, and seeing it through. This has proven to provide mental and emotional benefits to the children. Additionally, the vocational training that kids receive earns credits toward their school diploma.
At the completion of the program, students are judged by a 4-H community expert on their dog handling skills and the dog on his basic obedience skills. An exit interview by the student handler with the new adoptive family is conducted in order to help with the “letting go” process. An awards ceremony is held for the students afterwards.
“Many counselors recognize a difference in both the kids and the dogs,” added Wayne “Bear” Beresford, an AFSCME Local 341 member and security officer. “Rescue dogs find a family happy to welcome a rehabilitated pet into their home. The children use their new attitude and skillset in the facility. And counselors benefit from the transformation of troubled youth.”
Canine Connection has currently raised more than half of its $20,000 funding goal to continue running the program. If you'd like to help, please visit Canine Connection's GoFundMe page.
February 24, 2015
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The union representing the majority of Ohio prison employees presented a proposal to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to take back prison food service, which includes a lower per-meal cost than current prison food service vendor, Aramark.
The proposal by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, presented Feb. 23, comes in at $1.216 per meal. Aramark’s cost is $1.275. The bid would save $2.9 million a year over the Aramark cost.
“Our proposal proves, when there’s a level playing field, public sector employees are every bit as competitive as those in the private sector,” said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “Now, DR&C just needs to do the right thing and bring food service back under state control.”
Not only is OCSEA’s per-meal cost lower than Aramark’s price, its proposal also includes such provisions as beefed-up security and sanitation training for 338 correctional food service coordinators. In addition, OCSEA’s proposal would bring back 41 food service managers whose primary responsibility is sanitation. The bid also would keep the use of four regional monitors who were brought in with the private vendor, because the union says it is serious about cleaning up the institutions.
Numerous security and sanitation violations including maggots in food, inappropriate relationships, increased contraband, and staff and food shortages highlighted the inadequacy of Aramark’s staff training. When the contract began, Aramark employees received a scant eight hours of training. After numerous reports of security and sanitation violations, DR&C required the vendor to increase its training to 32 hours, but at the agency’s expense.
OCSEA’s proposal would bring back an even higher level of training and require food service workers to receive the same six-week training as correctional officers. Additionally, instead of only managers receiving ServSafe certification, as is Aramark’s practice, the union’s proposal will certify all food service workers.
Also under OCSEA’s bid, dozens of lieutenants and captains who were relocated to prison kitchens to monitor food service will return to providing needed security in other areas of the prisons.
“We believe that with well-trained staff compensated fairly, many of the security and sanitation problems we’ve experienced in prison food service will be minimized,” said Mabe.